Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board: Indian Leadership for Indian Health


Key Indian Health Issues: Cancer

The burden of cancer affects people of all races and ethnicities. However, cancer survival data reveal that American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) people have the poorest survival of any racial group for all cancer sites combined and for eight of the ten leading sites.(1) It is believed that part of the reason that AI/AN experience higher cancer morbidity and mortality is due to delays and obstacles in seeking and receiving cancer care.

Cancer is the third leading cause of death for AI/ANs of all ages, and the second leading cause of death for American Indians over the age of 45.(2) The lack of access to adequate cancer screening and treatment remain major causes of higher cancer morbidity and mortality in AI/AN communities. A variety of social, economic, and cultural barriers impede AI/AN patients’ ability to participate in screening, diagnosis, and treatment.(3)

There have been significant advances in science and in understanding treatment of cancer. Yet, there are many people who do not sufficiently benefit from these research advances.  This ‘gap’ between what is known and what is delivered is a critical determinant in cancer health disparities and ultimately…who’s at risk.

With incidence rates increasing among AI/AN communities, the need for comprehensive disease prevention efforts and cancer related research to understand the disparities in cancer health is a top priority. In response, Tribes in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington have joined together to address this common concern by forming the Northwest Tribal Cancer Control Coalition. The Coalition meets quarterly to share wisdom, data, and resources, identify and address common priorities, and develop strategies to eliminate Cancer Health disparities.

Visit the Northwest Tribal Cancer Control Program and the Navigator Program for more information on cancer among AI/ANs in the Pacific Northwest.

1. Mahoney MC, Michalek AM. “The health status of American Indians and Alaska Natives: 2. Lessons for cancer educators.” Journal of Cancer Education 14;1:23-7.
2. Burhansstipanov L, Gilbert A, LaMarca K, & Krebs L. “An innovative path to improving cancer care in Indian Country.” Public Health Reports 116;5:424-433.
3. “Facing Cancer in Indian Country: The Yakama Nation and Pacific Northwest Tribes.” President’s Cancer Panel 2002 Annual report. US Department of Health and Human Services, National    
        Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute: Printed December 2003.